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Plane Details In Crash Killing Malawi VP Saulos Chilima

A TRAGIC aircraft crash on Monday, June 10, claimed the lives of Malawi’s Vice President Saulos Chilima and nine others. The aircraft involved in the accident has been identified as a Dornier 228-202K.

The crash occurred in Chikangawa Forest, in Malawi’s Northern Region, shortly after air traffic controllers at Mzuzu International Airport directed the plane to return to the capital, Lilongwe, due to poor weather conditions. President Lazarus Chakwera confirmed that adverse weather prevented the aircraft from landing at Mzuzu Airport.

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The ill-fated flight had originally departed from Lilongwe, carrying Vice President Saulos Chilima and his delegation on a mission to the Northern Region. The weather deteriorated rapidly, causing the pilots to attempt a return to the capital. Unfortunately, the aircraft crashed moments after this decision was made, killing all on board.

The Dornier 228-202K, operated by the Malawian air force, is a twin-turboprop aircraft capable of carrying 18 passengers and two crew members. The aircraft, known for its robust performance in challenging conditions, has a maximum take-off weight of 6,200 kilograms and can reach speeds of up to 430 kilometres per hour. It can operate at a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet.

Aviation analytics platform Cirium reports that Malawi’s air force operates three Dornier aircraft, which were acquired between 1986 and 1989. Despite their age, these aircraft are still in active service, highlighting the need for rigorous maintenance and safety checks.

Dornier, a German aircraft manufacturer founded in 1914 by engineer Claudius Dornier, ceased operations in 2002 due to financial difficulties. By that time, Dornier had sold over 1,000 units worldwide. The Dornier 228-202K, a part of this legacy, costs approximately $2.3 million for a 1989 model.

The Dornier 228 series has a checkered history with at least 96 incidents recorded since 1981, resulting in 218 fatalities globally. Specifically, the Dornier 228-202K model has been involved in 12 fatalities between 2008 and 2024, with the recent crash in Malawi contributing significantly to this number.

The Aviation Safety Network’s database records other fatalities involving this model, including two deaths in Chile in September 2013. Non-fatal incidents have occurred in various countries, such as the Central African Republic, the Philippines, Nepal, Australia, and India.

In Africa, significant incidents include a Dornier 228-201 crash in Goma, DRC, killing 27 people in 2019. In Nigeria, Dornier 228-212 crashes in 2006 and 2015 resulted in 13 and 7 deaths, respectively. Additional fatalities include an 18-person crash in Cape Verde in 1999 and a death in South Sudan’s Pibor town in 2020.

Beyond Africa, notable Dornier crashes include 11 deaths in western India in 1989, and several incidents in Nepal, with 19 fatalities in 1993, 14 in 2010, and 15 in 2012.

After Dornier’s collapse in 2002, a Swiss company acquired the rights to continue producing the 228 series. In 2020, these rights were sold to a US company.

The crash has sent shockwaves through Malawi, with President Chakwera declaring a period of national mourning. ‘This is a tragic loss for our nation,’ Chakwera said. ‘Vice President Chilima was a dedicated leader and his loss is immeasurable.’

Aviation experts are calling for a thorough investigation into the crash to determine if aging aircraft, maintenance issues, or pilot error played a role. This incident has also reignited discussions about the safety standards of aircraft in service and the need for modernisation of Malawi’s air fleet.

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